For those wishing to study overseas or migrate to an English-speaking country, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the “holy grail” of exams, being accepted by governments, universities and immigration authorities around the world. As a result, it has become a high-stakes exam for a growing number of people.

There are three common mistakes that candidates often make with their approach to the IELTS exam. The first is to put off taking the test until the last minute, leaving themselves few chances to achieve the score they need. The second is to apply and take the exam with no preparation (and in the worst cases, not even being aware of the test tasks). The third common mistake is to believe that repeatedly taking the test in short succession without any English or exam training in between will naturally lead to an improved score.

So how can candidates get the score they need? Firstly, it is important to become familiar with the test by doing some training before the exam, and secondly, candidates need be realistic about their current level of English.

Here at the British Council, we test students’ level of English first, and then advise them on how to achieve the score they need. There is often a gap between the student’s current level of English and the level they need to get to, and this has to be bridged. It is important for students to have a clear idea of how long they need to study in order to achieve their goal. We can then advise the student about which course to take, choosing between intensive full-time and less-intensive part-time IELTS courses running at different times of day to suit the diverse needs of our customers. 

IELTS students at the British Council grow in confidence by practising specific question types, while at the same time learning important exam strategies and tips from the teacher. They also get advice about how to develop their language in the right way. For example, we find that many students need to develop vocabulary, as synonyms (different words with the same meaning) are widely used on the test as a way of measuring candidates’ level of English. Students who understand this can dramatically improve their performance over a short period of time, simply by learning as many synonyms as they can and being able to use them correctly. Another advantage of our courses is the value of feedback from an experienced teacher. Writing can be improved, mistakes corrected, synonyms learned, and tricky question types mastered. Timed practice allows students to experience the test in a safe environment and the teacher can advise how to do better next time.

We also offer a free academic counselling service. Students can make an appointment with a teacher, who can direct them to online resources and make a study plan to support their learning. There are many websites designed to support IELTS. Go to to find a wealth of useful information, including IELTS Ready Premium and videos of British Council teachers giving tips about how to handle different parts of the test.

All and all, the IELTS exam is a reliable and powerful tool, trusted by institutions and governments around the world. However, this is a test like no other, and therefore preparation for the exam is vital. Remember that in this case “Practice really does make perfect!”